Scant Hope for Refugees; Sudanese Flee War but Find Life as Perilous across Border

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 28, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Scant Hope for Refugees; Sudanese Flee War but Find Life as Perilous across Border


Byline: Lucy Jones, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

MBOKI, Central African Republic - Rafael Calezo had been walking for five months when he arrived in the Central African Republic recently.

Dressed in a torn shirt and trousers held up by string, he carried his daughter, who was silent from malnutrition.

"Our journey was terrible. One member of our group died from snakebite. Another gave birth on the way," he said, chewing the beans he foraged for that morning.

The 700 refugees who have entered the Central African Republic's eastern province, Haut-Mbomou, this year fled last September following the fall of the rebel-held town of Raga in southern Sudan - a trek of nearly 400 miles through the bush on foot.

"When the government troops came, there was bombing and many deaths. Then soldiers from both sides burned down our houses and looted our shops," said Adula Hissan, a trader.

"In Sudan, I owned a Toyota truck," he added.

Staying in an abandoned school here in Mboki, the asylum seekers have no blankets against nighttime drops in temperature and eat only what fruits they can find nearby.

"All these refugees have parasites, and many have malaria. The men have hernias from carrying children. There are also cases of leprosy," said a doctor from the French medical group Doctors Without Borders.

Mboki, 1,500 road miles east of Bangui, the Central African Republic's capital, was designated by the government as a resettlement center for Sudanese refugees after the first wave arrived in 1965. Now, an estimated 25,000 Sudanese live mainly in mud-and-straw shelters on the outskirts of the town of 5,600 people.

"We are expecting another several thousand refugees to arrive during the next few weeks. They are still in the bush. We don't know how the town is going to provide for them," said Peter Binza, head of the Mboki refugee committee.

Barely connected to the outside world - the last time the postal service operated in Mboki was 1974 - the community has little means to help the refugees. Money only circulates when a government plane arrives with the salaries of civil servants, and the last time wages were paid was in January 2001.

"Because we are located so far from Bangui, nobody cares what happens here. Now everybody is working on the land to produce food in order to survive," said Mayor Alphonse Gbanda, toiling in his own field.

The hospital closed this month on orders from the Red Cross in Bangui - a move that doctors say has led to the deaths of at least 14 patients who could have been saved.

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